Guest Post Wednesday: From Battlefield to Boss– MBAs for Ex-Military Personnel



This guest post is brought to you by Linda Forshaw.


The first thing that retiring military personnel will want to do at the end of their service is to see family and friends, meet the babies that have perhaps arrived in their absence, and probably enjoy a few drinks. The next thing they might consider is their post-service options. Having spent years on the battlefield with a guaranteed paycheck every month, many service men and women will be at a loss as to what to do next. Could the answer be the boardroom?

Many ex-military personnel will be attracted by jobs in the business sector, and it’s fair to say that many businesses will be equally attracted by the qualities inherent in such candidates. Qualities such as self-discipline, team working, leadership, and the ability to remain cool under pressure are after all vital for a career in the military. The question that remains is how can military personnel translate their experience in service into something that business leaders want, need, and in some cases understand? One way in which military personnel can make their skill set attractive to business is the pursuit of an MBA.

It’s by no means an uncommon scenario and one which works well for all parties. Most business schools are keen to include a diverse cohort in their program of study and place a high value on the contribution that ex-military personnel can bring to the classroom. Many service men and women will be interested in pursuing an MBA, but may be put off by the prohibitively expensive cost associated with such study. Harvard Business School estimates the cost of an MBA for a married student with two children to be in excess of $120,000.

It’s a significant cost, particularly for veterans who may lack the level of income and savings that they could have accrued if they had spent years in a regular job. Thankfully, there are several avenues that ex-military can pursue to secure help toward funding the cost of an MBA. The G.I. Bill aims to provide assistance toward the cost of education and housing for service members. Specifically the Yellow Ribbon Program (post 9/11 G.I. Bill) may offer funding for all resident tuition and fees for participating public schools (and the national maximum funding for those wishing to attend participating private schools). Under the remit of the Yellow Ribbon Program, business schools offer funding of up to 50% of the associated costs and the program matches that contribution, thus significantly bringing down the cost of an MBA.

Military MBA provides comprehensive details of best value MBA program for veterans using the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. According to these rankings, the most military friendly business schools in terms of funding are the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, and the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon. Depending on individual circumstances, ex-military personnel have the potential to have the cost of study at all four of these institutions to be covered in full.

An MBA for $0 – that has to sound tempting.


Author Bio

Linda Forshaw is a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the UK. A contributor to Degree Jungle, she is a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter @seelindaplay


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WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. This isn’t an exact representation, since many companies (both veteran and non-veteran-owned don’t service government customers), but veteran-owned small businesses make up 12.7% of the companies listed at, That’s a disproportionate representation, but may have self-selection bias, since there are incentives for VOSBs and SDVOSBs.

    “It’s the application that counts, not the source.” Amen, my friend. Once you get past your first job, most employers don’t care where you went, but what you’ve done.

    • Thanks. The highest number I’ve seen for today’s American veterans is 9% of the population (from all services and over all generations). Other population studies come in lower.

      I wonder if the selection bias is bumping VOSBs up to 12.7% all by itself or if it’s veterans using their initiative.

  2. Thanks, Jason!

    I’m a big fan of TA, especially at commands who support giving their people the evenings/weekends free to take the classes. My training commands benefited from many MBA surveys, studies, & projects. Especially when the XO was working on his own MBA.

    I think a name-brand MBA program can help a marginal student grow into their skillset, especially by spending time with the mentors and top performers. Ironically the high-powered performers who can get into any of the top programs would succeed even if they attended a program at a community college. It’s the application that counts, not the source.

    I’d love to see the data on whether veterans have a higher demographic representation among startup entrepreneurs and small-business owners. That military experience shines through pretty brightly.

  3. Bottom line up front – do a cost-benefit analysis. Run a decision tree (one of the skills they’ll teach you in B-school but that you can learn on your own) and take the path with the highest EV.

    When I was in the Army, I thought that budgets were the thing that you had to spend as much as possible of so that you’d get it again next year and wouldn’t run out of spare parts. Getting a MBA was very worthwhile, as it brought me up to speed on what my civilian counterparts had been doing the past few years.

    However, let me throw out a few caveats.

    1) As Linda mentions, having a $100k+ student loan nut to crack once you’re done is daunting. I was lucky to have graduated in a strong economic time where well over 90+% of my classmates got jobs. Nowadays, they’re not so lucky, and federally guaranteed student loans don’t go away when you declare bankruptcy.
    2) There is a benefit to going to a name brand school if you can get in because of both the a) cache associated with the school for potential hirers, and b) the network of alumni.
    3) If you can’t get into the “name brand” school, you may want to consider other, cheaper alternatives. No point in spending a ton of dosh on a MBA if it can’t get you what you’re looking for on the other end – a financially remunerative job. While you’re still in, take advantage of TA. Do a remote program (Duke’s Fuqua is a good example of one).
    4) You can also learn many of the skills that you’d learn from a MBA program through alternative means:
    a) Apprenticeships/internships/volunteering
    b) Starting up your own company (my rule of thumb is 6 months, $1k as your personal contribution)
    c) Alternative programs such as Josh Kauffman’s

    I know I’ve probably dared to stab a sacred cow by saying that a non top-X MBA isn’t really that valuable, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not. It’s sort of like the people who put MBA after their name in a title – it doesn’t really say anything about what you can do. There may be better alternatives for investing in yourself than 2 years and a significant check to the school.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?